What, Exactly, Will Congress Authorize?

Jack Goldsmith analyzes the administration’s proposed Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF):

The proposed AUMF focuses on Syrian WMD but is otherwise very broad.  It authorizes the President to use any element of the U.S. Armed Forces and any method of force.  It does not contain specific limits on targets – either in terms of the identity of the targets (e.g. the Syrian government, Syrian rebels, Hezbollah, Iran) or the geography of the targets.  Its main limit comes on the purposes for which force can be used.  Four points are worth making about these purposes.

First, the proposed AUMF authorizes the President to use force “in connection with” the use of WMD in the Syrian civil war. (It does not limit the President’s use force to the territory of Syria, but rather says that the use of force must have a connection to the use of WMD in the Syrian conflict.  Activities outside Syria can and certainly do have a connection to the use of WMD in the Syrian civil war.).  Second, the use of force must be designed to “prevent or deter the use or proliferation” of WMDs “within, to or from Syria” or (broader yet) to “protect the United States and its allies and partners against the threat posed by such weapons.”  Third, the proposed AUMF gives the President final interpretive authority to determine when these criteria are satisfied (“as he determines to be necessary and appropriate”).  Fourth, the proposed AUMF contemplates no procedural restrictions on the President’s powers (such as a time limit).

Jeez. No wonder Larison thinks the authorization is too broad:

As it is currently written, the resolution likely wouldn’t pass because it requests authorization for what could potentially be much more than a few “limited” strikes. If this resolution passed, Congress would be effectively signing off on U.S. strikes against targets both in and outside of Syria for as long as the war in Syria lasts. That isn’t what the administration claims that it wants to do, but why would anyone take their word for it?

Daniel Nexon argues that broad authorizations are necessary:

In fact, successful compellence against Syria almost certainly requires a credible threat of escalation. The biggest threat posed by potential US intervention? That it directly or indirectly leads to the overthrow of the current regime. Crafting an AUMF that undercuts that threat will almost certainly be counterproductive when it comes to the Administration’s preferred outcome in Syria: forcing the regime to accept a negotiated settlement with the rebels.

The Senate is already revising the administration’s AUMF to make it more limited. Goldsmith believes that this will prove difficult. With any luck, this could be the sticking point – or the way toward a deal.